In the contest to win the Republican nomination in Senate District 35, the party’s endorsement proved to be no advantage against a candidate with more name recognition, experience, and campaign funds.
Tuesday, former state Rep. Jim Abeler defeated party activist Andy Aplikowski, 61 to 39 percent, in the fight for the right to face DFL candidate Roger Johnson in a special election next month.
Abeler and Aplikowski were running to replace retiring Republican state Sen. Branden Petersen, a party favorite in this GOP stronghold despite his vote in 2013 in favor of same sex marriage.
Abeler, like Petersen, is a popular figure in the district — which covers the northern suburbs of Minneapolis — despite the former’s renegade vote in 2008 to override then Gov. Pawlenty’s veto of a transportation funding bill. Abeler left the Legislature in 2014 and sought the GOP’s nomination to run for U.S. Senate, a contest he ultimately lost to businessman Mike McFadden.
“I think the people recognized that we need a seasoned voice on the topics of health care, education and maybe transportation as well,” Abeler said of the reasons for his victory.
Abeler had sought the GOP endorsement from delegates representing Anoka, Andover, and Ramsey, but said from the start that he would run in a primary if he didn’t get it. He refused to directly criticize the process saying, “I think the endorsement should reflect the community as the whole.”
He added that he believes there is a value in a primary battle. “The benefit was that we reached out to the entire district,” he said. “Our final piece of mail was sent to thirty thousand people so we are actually pretty well positioned to [do] what we have already done.”
Abeler will face in Johnson in a special election February 9.